13 March 2012

Public Opinion Perceptions

Public Opinion by Walter Lippmann, 1921, Excerpts

In putting together our public opinions, not only do we have to picture more space than we can see with our eyes, and more time than we can feel, but we have to describe and judge more people, more actions, more things than we can ever count, or vividly imagine. We have to summarize and generalize. We have to pick out samples, and treat them as typical.

There is economy in this. For the attempt to see all things freshly and in detail, rather than as types and generalities, is exhausting, and among busy affairs practically out of the question. The real environment is altogether too big, too complex, and too fleeting for direct acquaintance. We are not equipped to deal with so much subtlety, so much variety, so many permutations and combinations. And although we have to act in that environment, we have to reconstruct it on a simpler model before we can manage with it.

Our public opinion is in intermittent contact with complexes of all sorts; with ambition and economic interest, personal animosity, racial prejudice, class feeling and what not. The tendency of the casual mind is to pick out a sample which supports or defies its prejudices, and then to make it the representative of a whole class. The necessary simplicity of any mass decision is a very important fact in view of the inevitable complexity of the world in which those decisions operate.

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